WSU Begins Men's Basketball Search

March 10, 2003

  • Press Conference Audio

  • PULLMAN, Wash. -- - Washington State University Athletics Director Jim Sterk confirmed Monday Paul Graham had been released from the remaining year of his contract and a search will begin immediately for a new men's basketball coach.

    Sterk made his comments in a 2:00 p.m. press conference from Bohler Gym.

    The following is a transcript of the press conference, followed by comments from Graham and two players, Marcus Moore (junior, Inglewood, Calif.) and Chris Schlatter (sophomore, Lafayette, Calif.)

    Press Conference - March 10, 2003

    'We will be exercising the option on Paul Graham's contract to release him from his final year. I want to make a point of thanking Paul and his assistants for the tremendous amount of hard work that they have put into their job and the integrity and honesty, and the work they did for Washington State.'

    'This decision was not an easy one. The decision was based upon the last four years. It was not based on a single game or a season, but the overall picture of the basketball program. Unfortunately it did not work out for Paul. I have the utmost respect for him as a person. He is a man of integrity. We do want to wish him and his assistants the very best.'

    'I will not dwell at this point on the decisions or reasons. I want to look forward to the future and concentrate on moving forward. We feel we have an opportunity. We have a great institution and I think someone can come in and build upon what has happened in the past and the players who we have here. We have the opportunity for success in men's basketball. We have shown it in other sports and we have those folks around the building who have been successful. We want men's basketball, along with all of our sports, to be competitive in the Pac-10 and be competitive nationally.'

    'I don't have a specific timeline as far as hiring a coach. I would like it to be sooner rather than later. There is a recruiting period that starts in the middle of March and we do have some scholarships available. During the coming weeks I will be gathering information from a number of people, people in the business, Cougars in the business. We need to hire someone who is a great fit, who is a great coach, and has head coaching experience. With that, it is going to be a busy time for me. Don't feel offended if I don't return your every phone call during this time period or divulge where I am or who I am talking to. We are very visible and some coaches will not want to be public for a while. We have to do our homework before we narrow down who will be our next coach at Washington State University.'

    Question and Answer Responses

    Q - Is head coaching experience a requirement: 'I do think this league is very competitive and I think a person needs to have some head coaching experience, although not necessarily right now. I have not talked to anyone (prospective coach). I am going to look for a person who has a desire to be at Washington State University and understands the culture, understands the Northwest. That may or may not mean they have coached here before. I think they have to have the appreciation, but there are other things that could override that Northwest connection.'

    Q - When was the decision made: 'I met with (WSU) President (V. Lane) Rawlins Monday (March 3) and then with Paul Tuesday. That is when the decisions were made.'

    Q - What is the buyout: 'I think the contract (buyout) is as stated, $130.000.'

    Q - Have you talked with Paul since Saturday and how has he reacted: 'Yes (Monday morning). Paul has been professional. Anyone as competitive as a coach wants to have that opportunity. He is leaving under good circumstances with me and the rest of the people around Washington State University. He is a great person with great integrity and he has shown it through this process. Probably a lot better than I would. Yes, understands (my decision), but I think he feels that he could do better. That's what disappoints him in the change.'

    Q - How long do you think it will take to turn the program around: 'I think sooner than longer. We have a good base of players in the program now. I have great respect for the players and the coaches this year. They were in almost every game and showed potential of what can happen, when they beat the Huskies. I think there is opportunity to be successful sooner than later.'

    'I think in the last six years this institution has put a lot of resources into our facilities, weight rooms to work out it and locker rooms and things like that. Obviously we have a facility in Beasley that is 30 years old and some things need to be done there, but overall a great facility for basketball. I think there is a lot to work with here.'

    Q - Will you have help looking for a new coach: 'I am going back to the past and people who have been here. The Jud Heathcotes of the world, the Kelvin Sampsons, the George Ravelings, the Jim Livengoods, the Bill Moos, those storied folks from our past. I am going to get input. I don't claim to know everything and know everyone, so I am going to get a lot of input from a variety of sources. Those Cougars who have been here before and are in the profession, I am going to lean on them a little and (already) have.'

    Q - Is the decision yours: 'Yes, with the President's approval.'

    Q - Has anyone called to show an early interest. (pause for response) More than one: 'Yes. Yes.'

    Q - Do you think you will be competitive financially with what you need to do: 'I think it depends on the person and what they bring to the table. I think we have been competitive and our salaries are more competitive. We will look at that in each individual case.'

    Q - Deadline by the Final Four: 'I would hope to by then, but it could linger after. That is kind of a target or goal, within a week after.'

    Q - Status of the assistants: 'Their contracts run through June. Then it is up to the new person as far as hiring a staff.'

    Q - How does hiring a minority play into this: 'We want to hire the best coach for our situation and Washington State University. We will look at anybody that fits that profile, great fit, great coach, and someone eager to get the job done here.'

    Q - Will the personality of the coach, given the difficulty of recruiting geographically, be a factor: 'First, I would like to take exception to your tough place to recruit. I am looking at Cindy Fredrick from Volleyball (she was in the room). When I was interviewed for the job, I asked her what the challenge was and she said some think it is recruiting. That is all in how it is perceived. I think we have a great opportunity. I have told people USC doesn't know it, but we have a recruiting advantage over them. There is no place that I would rather be in this country, given what happened a year ago on 9/11. This is a safe environment for families to send their cherished loved ones going to college. That is the opportunity we have. With the onset of improved facilities and the people we have on staff, the support people we have on staff, we have a great environment for a student athlete to go to college and play at the highest level. I don't make any excuses for that. We do have some characters in our program, but what we have are people with great integrity who love what they are doing and love where they are at (Pullman and WSU). That is the type of person we can find and will find. We have to have those types of people to have successful programs.

    Q - When did Paul tell the players: 'After the UCLA game.'

    Q - Contact with the two early signees: 'We will be in contact with them shortly. Coach (Jeremy) Eggers will be the transition person and he will be contacting them.

    Q - Div. I head coaching experience: 'I would prefer that, but it doesn't have to be (Div. I).'

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    Press Conference - March 10, 2003

    'WSU gave me an opportunity to be a head coach. I'm very appreciative of what WSU did. When I got this job, I was 48 years old and I had been an assistant coach for about 17 years. Not everyone was throwing jobs my way, I didn't know if I would ever be a head coach. Rick Dickson (AD) and Sam Smith (WSU President) have me a great opportunity. Then I was adopted by President Rawlins and Jim Sterk. I had a chance to coach at a very fine Divion I school in the Pac-10 and that's an opportunity that a lot of coaches will never have. There are a lot of coaches like me who will never get the opportunity to be a head coach. I did. That will always be very special to me.'

    'To be honest, I am very disappointed. I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't. I'm just disappointed that things didn't work out and I didn't get a chance to finish the job I was brought here to do. I want to wish Washington State and the basketball program the very best, especially the players. I believe that the program is in better shape than it was when I arrived here four years ago.'

    'I want to thank the players over the past four years for what they have done and what we tried to accomplish. They will always be very special to me.'

    Questions and Answers

    Q - Was it weird they way it came down last week: 'I don't know if it was weird. It just came down that way. That is the reality. I'm just thankful I had a chance to fulfill my dream of being a division one head coach.'

    Q - Why didn't it work out: 'If I knew that, I wouldn't be sitting here. I don't know why it didn't work. I'm not going to be the first coach to get fired this week and I won't be the last. A guy who is a pretty good coach got fired at Kentucky and he's doing real well right now (at another school). Those things happen.'

    Q - The emotion of telling your players after the UCLA game: 'We have a lot of love for each other. They were disappointed and I said I was disappointed. It is tough when you are around somebody for a long period of time and you tell them you are not going to be around them any more. It was tough, but life goes on. They are tough and I told them they will get a good coach. I think next year if they all stay healthy they will have a nice team.'

    Q - You talked all season about being back, did it surprise you: 'I had a year left on my contract and I expected to honor it. Things change. I wanted to be here and fulfill the contract, but it just didn't work out.'

    Q - Was it frustrating not to have everyone all year (injuries): 'It was frustrating because after beating Fresno back in December, we never had our full team. I'm proud the most that our kids didn't quit. I'm proud of guys like Randy Green who got a chance to go out there and prove he could play at the Division I level. It was frustrating not having them all, but there isn't anything you can do about it.'

    Q - What will you miss most about WSU and being the head coach: 'Being the head coach. I fulfilled my dream. I got a chance. A great league, great coaches, I coached against some great coaches in this league. I will miss being a head coach. That's what I wanted to do and that's what I set out to do a long time ago. Once you get a chance a taste it a little bit, it's kind of neat to be a head coach.'

    Q - Do you want to continue coaching: 'I don't know what else to do, I have to do something. I have had a tremendous number of calls from assistant coaches and head coaches across the country since the word got out, pretty good coaches I am friends with. Now I have to move on. I would like to be a head coach again. I will be 52 years old tomorrow. When I was an assistant coach, I said I've got to be a head coach, I've got to be a head coach. Now I want to live and have a good time. I have experienced it, but if the opportunity presents itself, yes, I would like to be a head coach again. A lot of guys have taken this route (head coach to assistant and then back to head coach). I'll be somewhere next year.'

    Q - Injuries: 'I think we would have won a lot more games, but I don't know if the losing and winning had anything to do with it. I think not having a full team affected the outcome of our season.'

    Q - Are any of the players thinking about transferring: 'I think all our kids like WSU. They shouldn't transfer. I have told them all, 'you guys should stay here, get in the classroom and get in the weight room.' I think Jim (Sterk) will get a good coach here who can take them to the next level.'

    March 10, 2003

    Q - On playing at USC Saturday knowing it was Graham's last game: 'I don't think we thought about it until after the game. We were concentrating on breaking a long streak down in Los Angeles. We were not thinking before the game about coach getting fired.'

    Q - On playing with coach's status uncertain throughout the season: 'We were more concerned about winning games than whether or not our coach was getting fired.'

    Q - Impression of Coach Graham: 'He was tough and hard. He was something that we needed. He commanded the best out of us. He wanted all of us to succeed and pushed us hard.'

    Q - On exploring professional opportunities: 'I really haven't sat down and thought about what I am truly going to do. I haven't talked to my mom or my dad or my family. Obviously, I need to sit down and figure out what is best for me. But this has no bearing on what I am doing.'

    Q - On Graham's advice regarding exploring professional opportunities: 'He told me to do what is best for me and my family. Obviously making a lot of money is what is best for me and my family, but getting a college degree would be best for me and my family in the long run.'

    Q - On what qualities he wants in a new coach: 'Some of the same qualities Coach Graham has, like being tough. This program, not just us, needs a guy who is going to come in and stand by his ways. He has to be tough, focused and driven to be a success here.'

    March 10, 2003

    Q - On the team's mood upon hearing the news after the UCLA game: 'It was sad because it was an end to what we were going through. It was tough for most of the guys. Milton (Riley) and I are the only two who have gone through a coaching change before so I think it was a shock to the team.'

    Q - On speculation of who the new coach will be: 'We paid attention to that a lot. I am personally very interested in who it is going to be. We are all very concerned who it is going to be. It affects our future.'

    Q - On why the season was not a success: 'I don't think it is fair to point all the fingers at Coach Graham because we're the ones who played the games. It had a lot to do with us and things we need to work on in the off-season. Unfortunately everyone looks at the coach and he is the one who is removed when things don't go right.'

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